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Senate to skip holiday if health care bill stalls
Senate Republicans are standing in the way of any votes from taking place on the Democrats’ health care reform bill, according to Democrats who promise to stay in session through Christmas and use rare procedural tactics to pass the legislation.
The Senate slogged through its third day of debate over the first amendments to the health care bill with no deal between Republican and Democratic leaders in order to hold votes on any of them, putting lawmakers in a logjam.
Late Wednesday night, leaders reached an agreement to hold votes on the first two amendments offered, as well as alternatives, on Thursday.
“I’ve been around long enough to tell when there’s a legitimate interest in developing some consensus and when it’s not. In this case here, [Republicans] really don’t,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut on Wednesday after a mid-day strategy meeting with fellow Democrats. “This is just another ‘rope-a-dope’ and that’s fine. It happens time to time, and when it does, there are alternatives to that.”
While Democrats crafted the bill in the first place, they still need the amendment process to play out - because they don’t yet have the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and pass the bill, they need lawmakers who are on the fence to have a chance to change the legislation to their liking. Republicans, on the other hand, say they hope to use the amendment process to strip the bill of its most problematic provisions.
Minority lawmakers say they aren’t stalling anything and that the enormity of the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion health care bill merits weeks of consideration.
“That’s an odd charge about a bill that would cost $2.5 trillion when fully implemented and would restructure 16 percent of the economy, affecting 300 million people,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
“It’s probably the most personal piece of legislation we’ve ever debated here, at least in recent history. We spent a month on the farm bill, we spent seven weeks on an education bill, we spent eight weeks on an energy bill. Surely we can spend at least that much time on the comprehensive health care bill.”
Democrats emerging from the strategy meeting Wednesday said that if the logjam doesn’t clear soon, they will begin “tabling” amendments, an infrequently used procedure in which amendments are essentially killed with only 51 votes. Democrats hope to pass the legislation before they leave town for the Christmas holiday.
Democratic lawmakers said they have agreed to stay in Washington through the holiday. Earlier this week, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he will keep the Senate open late evenings and on the weekends to get through the dozens of amendments expected.
“We go through as long as it takes, including Christmas Day, all the way to New Year’s, if that’s what it takes to pass it,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat. “You put your head down and you press ahead and you use the rules of the Senate and procedures to get it done.”
Democrats cited the U.S. troops overseas who will be working on the holidays.
“If those young men and women, most of whom are under the age of 25, are sitting in some outpost in Afghanistan or Iraq on Christmas Eve, we can be here on Christmas Eve to deal with health care,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But Republicans said that Democrats may be holding up the votes themselves, and blaming the minority, because they don’t have the votes.
“My guess is the Democrats may not have been ready to vote on the Medicare amendment because they’re having an awful hard time defending half trillion dollars in Medicare cuts when four years ago they said $10 billion in cuts was morally wrong,” Mr. Alexander said. “Perhaps they’re feeling awkward about it.”
The first amendment from Republicans is a proposal to strip the bill of its $464 billion in cuts to the Medicare program. The bill’s Democratic authors say the cuts would eliminate waste and fraud, but Republicans contend there is no way the cuts won’t impact seniors’ benefits.
The Democrats’ first amendment would give the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to require insurers to cover additional preventive screenings for women.
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